Thursday, August 13, 2009

Greeting The Dawn In The Deer Woods

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Anyone who greets the dawn in the field is getting a good jump on the day, regardless of the season, and will most likely find game animals and birds moving about. Do it just right, and it can be a great kick-off to your preseason deer scouting.

I visited one of my hunting spots two days ago, and there was a comfortable feel to the air, not too cool but certainly not warm. It felt good to be a bit chilly, and I walked to a high hill where I could watch for whitetails without being spotted or winded.

The sun was still blushing the eastern horizon when a doe with two spotted fawns wandered by, stopping here and there to nibble on alfalfa. They walked along the edge of a nearby green field, and sniffed at some new green growth, apparently to see if it was ripe enough to eat.

Two bucks, both fuzzy-antlered with velvet, cut the corner of a fallow field, dipped down into a gully, came out the other end and disappeared into the woods. They were quickly followed by a spikehorn that had got sidetracked, and was now playing catch-up with his buddies.

The sun was rising above the horizon when I spotted a veritable gold-mine of turkey gobblers. Twelve gobblers were moving like a combat platoon, and they came across the top of the hill and crossed within 20 yards of me. I was sitting on the ground, knees up and Swarovski binoculars to my eyes. I had to lower the binoculars to better see the gobblers.

One bird had an honest 12-inch beard, and two had 10-inch beards, two had 7 1/2 to 8-inch beards, and the others were jakes. The sunlight glistened off their feathers, turning the colors from russet to gold to black and back again. They didn’t know I was there, and they passed by and headed down into an open field where they would be out of sight of a nearby road.

I caught a glimpse of some animal moving through the timber, and never could see it well, but it appeared to be a coyote heading for a place to lay up for the day.

I didn’t spend much over an hour sitting, and it become apparent the critters were done moving. I walked the edge of an alfalfa field where mud remained from an earlier rain, and checked for tracks.

One big splay-hoofed deer track was visible, and it looked two-thirds larger than any other deer track I saw. Buck or doe? Hooves splay out in mud, and that could account for some of the size, but it could have been a deer of either sex. I knew of one very large doe in that area last year, and had heard reports of a good buck as well. It’s always easier to think of it being a buck than a large doe.

I used to hunt with a man who claimed he could tell the difference between a buck and doe track with 100 percent certainty, and under certain circumstances, I believe I can too. But, tracks in mud never seem to offer quite enough clues to its sex, and I need something more to go on than a widened track in soft mud.

Was today a scouting day? Absolutely. I could determine where the bucks entered the woodlot in the morning, and with a westerly breeze, even picked out a perfect tree. I’ll have to watch in the morning more often, and then get serious about a stand once I know the bucks are using the same trail every morning.

I learned years ago, when hunting bucks in southern counties, that farmland deer will travel one of two or three trails in a given area. We sometimes had to flip a coin to determine which of two trails to choose from, and often the coin would lie to us. So much for gambling.

Preseason scouting doesn’t need to be a major investment in time nor does it have to be done every day, but hunters should spend time scouting three or four times a week whenever possible.

It’s not only an important part of deer hunting, but it can be fun. My wife used to sit in a stand before the bow season opener, watch the deer and videotape them. By early September, she would have the buck of her choice on tape, and she would later lay claim to it with a well-placed arrow.

She always shot the buck she videotaped, and that proves that preseason scouting, from the spring on, does work. And, it’s fun.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/13 at 06:06 PM
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